I am a journalist with minimal legal experience. Over the past three weeks I attended a probable cause "hearing" in New Jersey. The accused is a high-profile former government official, and therefore the determination of probable cause was brought before a municipal judge.
The complainant is a citizen of New Jersey and, at the time of the crime, the accused was the chairman of the New Jersey-New York Port Authority. This is a position nominated by the New Jersey Governor and confirmed by the New Jersey legislature. The specific complaint is for official misconduct.
Yesterday, on the third day of the hearing (here is coverage of day one, and day two pre and post), the judge ruled that the complainant did not have standing to bring the complaint, and therefore probable cause was not found. Specifically, the judge said the complainant was not "close enough" to the crime to be substantially injured by it.
Here is the full text of the citizen's complaint rule for New Jersey, as on page 4 of this document: RULES GOVERNING THE COURTS OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY RULE 7:2. PROCESS:
Issuance of Complaint-Warrant (CDR-2) or Summons
(a) Authorization for Process
(1) Citizen Complaint. A Complaint-Warrant (CDR-2) or a summons charging any offense made by a private citizen may be issued only by a judge or, if authorized by the judge, by a municipal court administrator or deputy court administrator of a court with jurisdiction in the municipality where the offense is alleged to have been committed within the statutory time limitation. The complaint-warrant (CDR-2) or summons may be issued only if it appears to the judicial officer from the complaint, affidavit, certification or testimony that there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed, the defendant committed it, and a Complaint-Warrant (CDR-2) or summons can be issued. The judicial officer's finding of probable cause shall be noted on the face of the summons or warrant and shall be confirmed by the judicial officer's signature issuing the Complaint-Warrant (CDR-2) or summons. If, however, the municipal court administrator or deputy court administrator finds that no probable cause exists to issue a Complaint-Warrant (CDR-2) or summons, or that the applicable statutory time limitation to issue the Complaint-Warrant (CDR-2) or summons has expired, that finding shall be reviewed by the judge. A judge finding no probable cause to believe that an offense occurred or that the statutory time limitation to issue a Complaint-Warrant (CDR-2) or summons has expired shall dismiss the complaint.
(The statute of limitations, territorial jurisdiction, and evidential conditions have all been met.)
According to the complainant, who is a non-practicing lawyer, there are no conditions in this rule that say a citizen must be a particular "distance" from the crime. All New Jersey citizens are under the jurisdiction of the chairman of the state Port Authority. The rule also has no limitations to the kind or severity of the crime a citizen can complain about. It specifically says "...charging any offense made by a private citizen may be issued...."
Finally, I believe that by definition, the New Jersey statute for official misconduct affects all citizens in the jurisdiction of a government employee. (This is not unlike a violent crime occurring a few blocks away. You are affected by it because it affects your neighborhood's reputation.)
At the bottom of this post is the complainant's argument about standing, which is excerpted from his legal brief.
As the complainant told me in an interview after the decision, "Nobody has ever said that a citizen needs special standing, beyond being a citizen, to bring a citizen's complaint." He filed many of these complaints over the past 20 years, with more than one being upheld just this year (one is discussed in the below screenshots). He later said that this is the first time in New Jersey history that a citizen has been denied standing in filing a citizen's complaint, in this manner. (I am unsure how to independently confirm this.)
The complainant is going to file a complaint with the Advisory Committee For Judicial Conduct, and an "action in lieu of prerogative writ", stating the judge acted outside of his jurisdiction or scope, and to force him to consider the case on its merits.
Is official misconduct simply the act of "abusing public office" (or close to that)? If so, it implies that all citizens in their jurisdiction are injured. Or is official misconduct the specific actions underneath the misconduct (lane closures, bribing United Airlines, etc.)? If it's this, it implies that only certain people are injured (those stuck in traffic, flying on the plane, etc.).
Did the judge act outside of the scope of his duties by even considering standing in a probable cause determination? What in the citizen's complaint rule provides for the citizen's "closeness" to the crime? If nothing, then what else could the judge have based that decision on?
(Are these concepts applicable nationwide, or are some unique to New Jersey?)
Finally, I may have the opportunity to submit a small number of questions to the judge directly. I would appreciate some suggestions that would most effectively get relevant information from him.